NOVAK DJOKOVIC may have had a little assistance during his recent Wimbledon final run, with the seven-time winner wearing a nifty little piece of nanotechnology known as a TaoPatch. What’s that you ask? According to the manufacturer’s website, the patch is a minute “nanotechnology device that combines light therapy and acupuncture” as well as converting your body heat “into light of specific therapeutic therapies”.
If you watched Djokovic during change of ends at this year’s Wimbledon tournament, which he ultimately lost in a five-set thriller to Spanish wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz, you may have noticed a piece of tape covering a disc on his chest. That’s the TaoPatch and the 23-time grand-slam winner swears by the device, calling it his secret weapon. You’ll likely see him wearing it at the US Open on August 28 if he competes — there’s some concern he may pull out after withdrawing from the National Bank Open in Toronto due to fatigue.
But of course, the former world no.1 is renowned for his determination to wring every ounce of energy and any possible advantage from his temple-like body. He is also resolute in his faith in practices he believes work for him. The Serb is gluten free and infamously refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that saw him barred from playing in the 2022 Australian Open and subsequently booted out of the country.
So, is the TaoPatch a legitimate health and performance aid or a pseudoscientific device that relies on a placebo response? Let’s take a look.
What is the TaoPatch?
According to the company’s website, the patch is a “human upgrade device” about the size of a 20-cent coin, that seeks to harness the power of acupressure with cutting edge developments in light therapy and nanotechnology.
The device, created by Italian bioengineer Fabio Fontana, was originally developed to treat muscle contractures, and has since been used to treat sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as by athletes seeking a performance boost.
How do you use the TaoPatch?
You apply the patch to various acupressure points on your body using tape or a Band-aid. According to TaoPatch’s website the device contains nanocrystals called quantum dots, which are able to convert the infrared heat naturally emitted by your body into therapeutic wavelengths that provide the patch’s health benefits. Patches last for up to 2.5 years.
Does the TaoPatch work?
Good question. The company’s website says the TaoPatch has been tested in “50 clinical studies with our network of 2200 doctors, dozens of sports teams”. It lists studies published in reputed health journals such as the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness and the International Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.
One study on the device’s effects on posture found the group with the active patch swayed less than the control group when standing upright. Cofounder Dmitri Leonov claims customers have reported that the patch helps eliminate pain, reduce stress and aids focus.
But some experts are critical of the device. Samuel Pinches, a materials scientist and post-doctoral research fellow at Swinburne University looked into the company’s claims, concluding the device “appears to be pseudo-science”. “TaoPatch claim it works by emitting ‘biophotons’. While biophotons are a known phenomena, there is no evidence that these play a role in intracellular communication, or that by simply adding more similar photons that any healing effect can be achieved,” Pinches writes, before comparing biophoton treatment to homeopathy.
“TaoPatch mixes current scientific research, scientific buzzwords, and complete fabrications, to present as a technology that seems ‘miraculous’ but yet almost plausibly believable. It is my strong belief that this product appears to be a fake placebo product.”
Who else is using the TaoPatch other than Novak Djokovic?
While the Serb tennis ace is the biggest name to utilise the technology, he’s not actually an official ambassador (the company might want to get onto that). The listed ambassadors include Francesco Lo Re, boxer Luca Rigoldi and skier Asja Zenere. Not exactly global household names.
Does the TaoPatch contravene the ATP’s anti-doping policy?
At this stage the ATP hasn’t commented on the TaoPatch, which could give a clue to its efficacy. It appears that right now, it doesn’t regard the product as performance enhancing.